Who was I back then? Just a 17 year old kid from the Bronx with dreams of becoming a scientist. And somehow, the world’s most famous astronomer found time to invite me to Ithaca in upstate New York to spend a Saturday with him.
I remember that snowy day like it was yesterday. He met me at the bust stop and showed me his laboratory at Cornell university. Carl reached behind his desk and inscribed this book for me. ‘For Neil, a future astronomer. - Carl’.
At the end of the day he drove me back to the bus station. The snow was falling harder. He wrote his home phone number on a scrap of paper and he said ‘If the bus can’t back through, call me, spend a night at my home with my family’. I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon, I learned from Carl, the kind of person I wanted to become. He reached out to me, and to countless others, inspiring so many of us to study, teach and do science. Science is a cooperative enterprise spanning the generations. It’s the passing of a torch, from teacher to student to teacher. A community of minds reaching back to antiquity and forward to the stars.